This is an introduction to the Hindu epics The Ramayana and The Mahabharata presented to an audience of children. These Sanskrit works have a deep religious significances and remain vibrantly alive in the daily existence people in India to this day.
Why are the epics important?
The Ramayana and the
Mahabharata are considered
the foundation of dharma or
the Hindu code of ethical
Duty to parents, brotherly love,
true friendship, correct
conduct, courage, persistence
and many other virtues are
stressed in the epics.
They are also entertaining
stories because they are full of
action and adventure.
• The story of Rama, the
incarnation of Vishnu and the
ideal man (maryada purushottam)
• Supposed to have been written
some time between 500 B.C. and
• Ramayana literally means
‘Rama’s journey’. It is called ‘Adi
Kavya,’ the first and ideal poem.
• It was composed in Sanskrit by
Valmiki, who is also called ‘Adi
Kavi’ or the first poet.
• It consists of 24,000 verses in
seven books called kandas.
How the Ramayana was Written
• Valmiki was a robber who
repented of his crimes. He asked
sage Narada who the perfect man
was. Narada replied, “Rama,” and
narrated the story of Rama.
• Valmiki became preoccupied with
thoughts of Rama.
• Once he saw a hunter’s arrow
killing a male bird.
• The cries of the female bird
touched Valmiki’s heart, who
cursed the hunter.
• His words formed a shloka, a
piece of verse that could be sung
The first poem in Sanskrit
• This shloka was the first poem in
• Later Brahma the creator appeared
to Valmiki saying “Tell the story
of Rama in the same metre and
rhyme. I’ll grant you a vision of
his whole life. And as long as the
mountains and seas remain, so will
the glorious Ramayana live in the
hearts of men and inspire them to
perform noble deeds.”
• He taught it first to Rama’s sons,
Luv and Kush then his other
How did the Ramayana become
• Story tellers and bards narrated or
sang it to people and soon it
spread through the country.
• It was retold in many Indian
languages and even entered the
culture of neighbouring countries.
• It also entered the realm of music,
dance and theatre and to this day
is performed as the Rama Lila
during the festival of Dusshera
which celebrates Rama’s battle
and victory against the demon
• The Mahabharata is a more
complex work which covers
almost every aspect of life and
• It is the longest existing epic
consisting of 1,20,000 shlokas.
• Said to be the story of an
ancient battle between two
branches of a family, the
• Said to be composed around
Who wrote the Mahabharata?
• Also known as Jaya or victory, the
Mahabharata is said to have been
composed by the great sage Vyasa, the
compiler of the Vedas.
• Vyasa taught the Mahabharata to his
• It is said Narada taught it to the gods or
devas while Suka taught it to the
gandharvas, the rakshasas and the
• Vaisampayana, one of Vyasa’s chief
disciples, narrated the story at a great
sacrifice conducted by Janamejaya, the
descendent of the Pandavas and it
How is the story of the battle
• It is in the form of a dialogue between King
Dhritarashtra and Sanjaya his advisor and
• Sanjaya narrates each incident of the
Kurukshetra War, fought in 18 days, as and
when it happened.
• Dhritarashtra sometimes asks questions and
laments the destruction caused by the war,
to his sons, friends and kinsmen. He also
feels guilty, because he was partly
• Sanjaya begins with a description of the
earth, the other planets, and gives an
elaborate list of the kingdoms, tribes,
provinces, cities, towns, villages, rivers,
mountains, forests, etc. of Bharatavarsha.
• He also explains the military formations
adopted on each day, the death of each hero
and the details of each battle.
The Bhagwad Gita
• The Bhagwad Gita, one of the most sacred
texts of the Hindus, constitutes some 18
chapters of the Mahabharata.
• The Gita is the conversation between Lord
Krishna and Arjuna before the battle of
• Arjuna wonders if it is right to fight his own
cousins, and Krishna explains his duties as
a warrior and prince to him and the
importance of appropriate action.
• This has led to the Gita often being
described as a practical guide to life and
• Krishna stressed that the soul is immortal
and the body perishable.
• He finally reveals his identity as the
Supreme Being Himself and blesses Arjuna
with an awe-inspiring vision.
Mahabharata in art and
• Stories from the Mahabharata
have inspired great works of art
and literature like Kalidasa’s play
Abhigyana Shakuntalam on the
story of Shakuntala, and Raja Ravi
• Bhima’s slaying of the demon
Bakasura, the righteous and truth
loving Raja Harishchandra, the
Akshayapatra or the wondrous
vessel of plenty, Nala and
Damayanti, Agastya and
Lopamudra are other popular
stories from the Mahabharata.
• In Pandavani, a folk
theatre form from
retold. Teejan bai is
the best known
Where the Ramayana took place
• Ayodhya—Rama’s city, capital of
• Videha—kingdom of King Janak,
• Panchavati—Lakshman cut off
Surpanakha’s nose here
• Dandakaranya forest—Sita was
abducted from here
• Kishkindha—Sugriva’s kingdom
• Rameshwar—the place from
where Rama crossed to Lanka
• Sri Lanka—Ravana’s kingdom
Where the Mahabharata took
• Anga—Karna’s kingdom